Most of ‘Luzia,’ a 12,000-Year-Old Fossil, Is Recovered After Brazil Museum Fire

Most of ‘Luzia,’ a 12,000-Year-Old Fossil, Is Recovered After Brazil Museum Fire


One of the most prized possessions of Brazil’s National Museum, which was gutted by a huge fire last month, has been found amid the debris: the oldest human fossil in the region, known as Luzia.

The museum director, Alexander Kellner, told The Associated Press on Friday that 80 percent of the fossil’s pieces had been found.

The fossil was discovered during an excavation in 1975 outside of the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte. It was given the name Luzia in homage to “Lucy,” the famous 3.2 million-year-old remains found in Africa.

The National Museum held Latin America’s largest collection of historical artifacts, with about 20 million pieces. The fire, on Sept. 2, ravaged the stately, 200-year-old museum in Rio de Janeiro. Years of history encapsulated inside were thought to be lost.

“The loss of the National Museum collection is incalculable for Brazil,” he wrote. “Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge have been lost.”

Mayor Marcelo Crivella of Rio de Janeiro said on Instagram that it was a “national duty” to rebuild “from the ashes.”

Researchers, museum workers and anthropologists had gathered outside, dressed in black, along with hundreds of residents as the building stood smoldering, as the import of what could be lost sank in. Some museum workers sobbed.

The 12,000-year-old skeleton known as Luzia was among those treasures believed to be destroyed at the museum, which is linked to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and is the oldest scientific institution in Brazil, with large natural history and anthropology collections.

Some items in the collection are irreplaceable to science, as well as the country’s national memory. One of the world’s largest meteorites survived the fire, but other pieces — mummies, from Egypt and South America, as well as Egyptian artifacts — may have been destroyed.

Residents had lashed out at what they said was Brazil’s near-abandonment of museums and other basic public services. Many saw the fire as a symbol for a city, and nation, in distress.

“It’s a moment of intense pain,” said Maurilio Oliveira, a paleoartist at the museum. “We can only hope to recover our history from the ashes. Now, we cry and get to work.”

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